Recently, I completed a first draft of the “Project,” after about eight months of effort (which, of course, followed fifteen years of research, most of it over long school vacations, but who’s counting!). The text (including notes, which at this point are embedded in the body parenthetically) comes in at almost 400 single-spaced pages, which strikes me as long for a publishable manuscript but OK for a first draft.
My first book on political party development in the state of Georgia covered 23 years (1783-1806) during a period in the state’s history when only a few towns had even one newspaper, and for which other sorts of primary sources, especially personal letters, were relatively scarce. The current project, on the other hand, looks at developments over a longer time span (1807-1845), in an era when there were more towns and, thus, many more newspapers, including several towns with at least two papers, a surprising number of which are still available in one form or another. Moreover, some types of primary sources for those four decades are more plentiful than for the earlier period, especially governmental records, though, once again, personal correspondence is not as plentiful as I’d like (chalk this up, not to illiteracy, but to the damages wrought on the state by the Civil War). Still, much like the previous volume, the value of this one will probably rest on how well I’ve mined the surviving newspapers.
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Another question for the next stage in this project concerns how much research in secondary sources still remains to be done. Parts I-IV cover 1807-37 (chapters 1-11), and in them I have already incorporated material from a variety of secondary sources (i.e., books and articles), especially in dealing with such difficult subjects as Georgia’s relations with the Creeks and the Cherokees. On the other hand, Part V, 1838-45 (chapters 12-14) was an extensive “add-on,” because I had planned to stop with the year 1837, but eventually realized that doing so would not answer the original question I had posed those many years ago (when, why, and how did party development in Georgia come to resemble that occurring in other states?). And that section, those three chapters covering eight years, rests at this point heavily on research in newspapers. Oh, and by adding those years to the study, I was able to answer, to my own satisfaction anyway, that nagging question, though, I must admit, without stumbling upon a smoking gun along the way.
For the second draft I plan to review all my notes from secondary sources and incorporate useful material into the first draft. As I said above, I have already done some of this, at least for the years 1807-37. So, it looks like I’ll be bringing in a little additional material from secondary sources for the chapters covering 1806-1837, and quite a bit more for the those treating the last eight years. And, the more material I add to those last few chapters, which are already the longest in the text, the more ruthless the revision of those chapters will need to be.
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In addition to revising the contents in the second draft, there is also the matter of structure. First of all, should I keep the division into “parts”? It’s a logical approach, because each “part” embodies a slightly different phase of political party development in Georgia between 1807 and 1845. But, looked at another way, separating the time period into “parts” might be artificial and, thus, not helpful. So, a point to ponder. . . . And, whether or not the “parts” survive, the number of chapters will surely be reduced. In fact, as I began working on the second draft, one of the first things I did was combine the four relatively short chapters in Part I (1806-17) into two, thereby cutting the chapters to twelve. After the War of 1812, the number of newspapers in Georgia mushroomed, as did the length of each of the chapters: Part II (1817-28; three chapters), 86 pages; Part III (1829-32; two chapters), 51 pages; Part IV (1833-37; two chapters), 64 pages; Part V (1838-45; three chapters), 120 pages. Once more, the length of those “add-on” chapters seems to cry out for paring.
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Then there is the matter of an epilogue. If I write one, it should of course summarize the main points made in the study. I’m also thinking about including some treatment of the years 1849-1853, when, in the wake of the Mexican War and the furor over the Wilmot Proviso and the question of slavery in the newly-acquired territory, political parties in Georgia underwent yet another re-organization. I think it might be instructive to compare and contrast that later shift with the earlier ones. For the time being, however, I’ll focus on completing the second draft, then approach the question of whether the inclusion of an Epilogue would clarify “what it all means,” and, if so, what shape it should take.
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In sum, I am relieved to have completed the first draft, but much work lies ahead. The more I think about this whole process, in fact, the more surprised I am at how (relatively) smoothly it has gone to this point. Over the past decade and a half, as I’ve tried to find time to do the research, I sometimes wondered if I was being too careful in the kinds–and quantity–of notes I was taking; how I was organizing them for storage and retrieval; the number of newspapers I’ve consulted; and the number of secondary sources I’ve used. But, at least when writing the first draft, every time I needed to lay my hands on information squirreled away in my notes I was able to do so quickly and easily. I guess I was doing something right during the research phase, even without quite realizing what it was.
Then there’s the beauty of word processing–correcting mistakes and even shifting blocks of text to create a smoother narrative flow are so much less of a hassle than they were back in the antediluvian period of the early 1970s when I was typing my dissertation, 20 pages a day for a solid month, on a portable electric typewriter (bonus points if you remember what that was!), while puffing away on so many cheap cigars that the white curtains in our bedroom turned yellow(ish). Ah, those were the days. . . .
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A final point, which I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, is the added convenience for the researcher of having so many primary sources available on the Internet, especially, in my case, antebellum Georgia newspapers (most at the University of Georgia-based “Digital Library of Georgia,” part of the “Galileo” web site) and congressional records (at the Library of Congress’s marvelous “American Memory” site). While this certainly doesn’t mean that one can write a scholarly work without leaving one’s home computer station, it does tend to make research trips more manageable, and it also simplifies the process of re-checking a source, even when you’re in the middle of revising a sentence or a paragraph. Gee, if I drag this process out for another five or ten years I’ll bet online resources will proliferate to the point that I’d never have to leave home. . . .
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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject: